For amateur historians and trivia collectors everywhere

Location: Masterton, New Zealand

I survived school history despite the best efforts of the education system to bore me to death. Many years later, I discovered Treaties, dates, the movement of nations, are mere context. The fascination is in the details.

Friday, March 24, 2006

s.s. Sussex
On 24th March 1916, the English Channel ferry s.s. Sussex had her bow blown off by a German torpedo launched from a U-Boat without warning. Casualty estimates vary from 50 to 80 injured and killed. Among them were the Spanish composer Enrique Granados and some citizens of the U.S.A - still a neutral country at that time.
This incident led to President Wilson issuing the Sussex Ultimatum on 18th April and Germany changing it's policy on attacking unarmed merchant ships.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Captain James Cook and the crew of H.M.S. Resolution spent 15th March 1774 observing Easter Island and its inhabitants.
"As to the people, they were certainly of the same race as the New Zealanders and the other islanders, 'the affinity of the Language, Colour and some of thier customs all tend to prove it'; of moderate stature, slender, nimble, active, pleasant-featured, hospitable, thievish. ....
Of government or religion Cook could not speak. There were certainly 'arreeke', or chiefs, and one who was said to be chief of the whole island. 'The Stupendous stone statues errected in different places along the Coast are certainly no representation of any Deity or place of worship; but most probable Burial Places for certain Tribes or Families.' "
The Life of Captain James Cook, J.C. Beaglehole, 1974.

According to new research, previously held beliefs about the rise and fall of Easter Island culture could be wrong.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Philip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773) bombarded his son with hundreds of letters instructing him "with endless insistence as to his bearing in society." They were an 18th century version of 'How to Win Friends and Influence People'.
On 9th March 1748, he offered this gem -
"Having mentioned laughing, I must particularly warn you against it; and I would heartily wish that you may often be seen to smile, but never heard to laugh while you live.
Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill-manners; it is the manner in which the mob express their silly joy at silly things; and they call it being merry.
In my mind there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter. I am neither of a melancholy nor a cynical disposition, and am as willing and as apt to be pleased as anybody; but I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason nobody has ever heard me laugh."

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Canadian Rebellion
"Had the country bordering on the Red River been an unpeopled wilderness, the plan of transferring the land of the Northwest from the Hudson Bay Company to the Crown, and from the Crown to the Dominion of Canada, might have been an eminently wise one. But, unfortunately, it was a country which had been originally settled by the Earl of Selkirk in 1812 with Scots from the Highland counties and the Orkney Islands, and subsequently by French voyageurs from Lower Canada.
There were 15,000 persons living in peaceful possession of the soil thus transferred, and these persons very naturally objected to have themselves and possessions signed away without one word of consent or note of approbation. Hence began the rebellion led by Louis Riel, who, with his followers, seized Fort Garry, with all its stores of arms, guns, provisions, dominated the adjacent village of Winnipeg, and established what was called a Provisional Government.
The rebels went steadily from violence to pillage, from pillage to robbery, much supplemented by drunkenness and dictatorial debauchery; and, finally, on March 4, 1870, with many accessories of cruelty, shot to death a loyalist Canadian prisoner they had taken, named Thomas Scott."
The Great Lone Land, Sir William Butler, 1872.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

William F. Cody, better known as "Buffalo Bill", was born this day in 1846.
As the people of Cody, Wyoming know, there was much more to the man than buffalo hunts and a Wild West Show.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Today has been a shared birthday, 200 years apart, for two men who have left their mark on American politics - each in his own unique way.
George Washington, (1732), and Edward Kennedy (1932).

Monday, February 20, 2006

Edinburgh, February 20, 1807 - Sir Walter Scott to Miss Seward.
"As for poetry, it is very little labour to me; were all the time I wasted on the "Lay (of the Last Minstrel)" put together, I am sure it would not exceed six weeks. The last canto was written in three forenoons when I was lying in quarters with our yoemanry. I leave it to yourself to guess how little I can have it in my most distant imagination to place myself upon a level with the great bards you have mentioned, the very latchets of whose shoes neither Southey nor I are worthy to unloose.
My admiration of Chaucer, Spenser and Dryden does not blind me to their faults, for I see the courseness of the first, the tediousness of the second, and the inequalities of the last, but, my dear Miss Seward, 'in those days were giants in the land,' and we are but dwarfs beside them."